Gregor Townsend expressed sympathy for Dave Cherry after the veteran hooker’s first World Cup was brought to a premature end following a fall down the stairs at Scotland’s team hotel.
It emerged on Thursday that the 32-year-old had withdrawn from the squad with concussion after he took a tumble and banged his head at the Scots’ tournament base near Nice on Monday while the players were enjoying some down time with their families.
The previous day, Cherry had played his first World Cup match as a second-half replacement for George Turner in the 18-3 defeat by world champions South Africa in Marseille.
Stuart McInally has been called up into the Rugby World Cup 2023 squad to replace David Cherry, who has left the tournament through injury.
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) September 14, 2023
The Edinburgh hooker flew out of France on Thursday to return home, where his fiancée Olivia is due to give birth in the coming weeks.
Stuart McInally – cut from the provisional training squad last month – has been drafted in as Cherry’s replacement.
“It’s very difficult for Dave, and it’s sad,” head coach Townsend said at a media briefing in Nice on Thursday.
“At least he got to play in a game. His wife’s just about to give birth so at least he’s got something positive to go back to. He did well to get himself into the World Cup squad and he did well at the weekend. He would have had more involvement as we went through the pool.”
Cherry’s misfortune has paved the way for a remarkable career swansong for McInally. The 33-year-old announced in April that he would be retiring from rugby after the World Cup to pursue a career as an airline pilot.
McInally was part of Townsend’s 41-man provisional training group for the tournament, but the head coach then omitted him when he named his final 33-man squad in August, seemingly ending the career of the man who captained the Scots at the last World Cup in Japan.
However, the long-serving Edinburgh forward was invited out to France last week to provide cover after hooker Ewan Ashman sustained a head knock in training and he attended Sunday’s match in Marseille before being told his services were no longer required and flying home on Monday.
McInally’s roller-coaster summer then took another twist when he was summoned back to the south of France on Wednesday.
“He’s been called out twice now,” said Townsend, reflecting on whirlwind period for the veteran.
“On Monday I was chatting to him back at the hotel and I said ‘you can stay until tomorrow or go back today, it looks like Ewan is on track to make a full recovery, so there’s no reason to stay’.
“And then he came back out two days later and he’s trained today. He’s obviously kept training, he’s been topping up (his fitness) and he’s always said he’d be ready for the opportunity. Maybe he would have been thinking that would have happened last week, but it’s now happened for him.
“Stuart is a very experienced player for us. He’s obviously been at World Cups before and had trained really well throughout the (pre-tournament) camp and had played well so we’re fortunate that we have someone with his experience and quality to step in.”
The Scots trained on Thursday for the first time Sunday’s bruising encounter with South Africa and Townsend was pleased to see Finn Russell come through the session after the talismanic stand-off took a couple of heavy hits against the Boks, one of which required lengthy on-field treatment.
George Horne and Ashman also took part after concussion ruled them out of contention for the opening game and the pair are on track to return to the fold for the next match against Tonga in Nice on Sunday week.
“Yes, Finn trained,” said Townsend. “There were two guys with red bibs on (George Horne and Ewan Ashman) today. It was a non-contact session although we did do a contact element.
“The two guys with red bibs on didn’t do that (contact element) but Finn wasn’t in a red bib which means he’s obviously able to do some sort of contact, which is a good recovery. He did the whole session.”
The only player who missed training on Thursday was back-rower Luke Crosbie, who was ruled out last weekend with a rib problem.
“Luke is on track, he’s just ill today,” reported the head coach. “He trained on Tuesday morning with the physios. He’s now fully available for selection, but overnight he had a stomach complaint so that’s why he wasn’t training today.
“The other two (Horne and Ashman) came through the session fine and their next stage is to add contact which will be tomorrow. Ali Price went off (the training pitch) as a precaution with a tight groin, but I don’t think it will be anything serious.”
The Scotland players had three days off following Sunday’s defeat by South Africa, with the players’ families invited into the camp.
Townsend is adamant there will be no hangover from their opening-weekend setback as they build towards the Tonga showdown.
“I don’t think morale was ever affected,” he said when asked if he felt the short break was beneficial to the players.
When the @Springboks ‘Bomb Squad’ did their thing at scrum time on Sunday
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) September 13, 2023
“We knew this would be an opportunity to spend time with families because our next games (after Tonga) are pretty much game then into six or seven-day turnarounds, so it will be quickly into that process.
“We saw the families all together in the hotel for the last two or three days and that was really good, but the mindset they came in to train with today was excellent.
“They worked really hard. That was a tough session, tomorrow’s will be tough again, and Sunday’s will be tough. We know we’ve got an opportunity now to push things a bit harder and then we get back into a normal Test week, which starts on Tuesday for us.”